As a young adult who was raised in a Christian home and who attends a Christian university, I have experienced a phenomenon I like to call “Christian success.” Usually, it runs along the lines of something like this:
“We broke the box office!”
“Trending on Twitter!”
“Number one for eight consecutive weeks!”
“100,000 members strong!”
Where did this idea of “Christian success” come from, and why have we equated influence with notoriety?
To many people of his day, Jesus was a poor, homeless, blaspheming rabbi. He was hated and rejected by many. He spoke of a kingdom not of this world, spent most of his time with sinners, broke the rules and washed dirty feet. And he claimed to be the Messiah—the king. Jesus did not fit the description of a successful, conquering king. If we really think about it, Jesus, from the perspective of his culture, was a failure.
Even Pope Francis thinks so. In his homily at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral back in September, Pope Francis spoke about Christian hard work and self-sacrifice. The danger, he warned, is when we get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world. While affirming the desire for Christian excellence, he reminded his audience to look to the example of Jesus, “The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labours. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus … and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, in the failure of the cross.
When Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, He did not promise them success. In fact, He guaranteed them failure: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake”
He told his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24-26). He told them that the gate is narrow and the way is hard (Matt. 7:13-14). He told them that whoever wanted to be the greatest had to be a servant (Mark 10:43-45). He told them that he was going to the cross (Matthew 17:22-23). And he did. And many of his disciples deserted him.
They left because they did not understand why Jesus came. They thought he had come to overthrow Rome, to sit on a glorious throne and rule over Jerusalem. The Pharisees wanted an earthly king, and the Zealots wanted a rebellious revolutionary. Jesus was neither. He was fighting a different battle.
Jesus came to deliver mankind from its enslavement to sin, Satan and death. He knew when he came to earth that he would be reviled, but he came anyway. That is the greatest act of love imaginable.
“Christian success” does not come from rising to the top, being the most popular, having the most likes or followers, or sitting at number one on the list. That is how the world defines success. “Christian success” comes from following in the footsteps of our Savior. Although Jesus was God, he became a man and accepted the limitations of human flesh.
He walked out of his tomb, thereby defeating death with its own weapon. That is victory. That is success in its truest form. Sacrificial success…
The above as originally published on Relevant Magazine. Read Rachel Graf’s full article here.